By Richard Bienstock
Fingerstylist extraordinaire Bert Jansch, whose work over close to half a century influenced everyone from Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, and Nick Drake, to Neil Young, Johnny Marr, and Devendra Banhart, died today after a bout with lung cancer. He was 67.
Born in Glasgow in 1943, Jansch came to prominence in 1965 with the release of his self-titled solo debut; the album featured what would become one of his most well-known compositions, the brooding “Needle of Death,” which years later Neil Young used as the basis for his own “Ambulance Blues.” Jansch’s third album, 1966’s Jack Orion, featured his take on the traditional “Blackwaterside,” reworked shortly after by Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side.”
In the late Sixties, Jansch, already a figurehead in the burgeoning English traditional folk world, teamed up with fellow master fingerstylist John Renbourn to form Pentangle, a supergroup of sorts that conjured a singular and virtusic blend of folk, blues, rock, and English traditional music. Throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies the band released six well-received albums, later reuniting for another run in the mid Eighties. All along and almost without fail, Jansch continued to record and perform as a solo artist. His most recent album, 2006’s acclaimed The Black Swan, featured contributions from the likes of Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart.
As recently as last year Jansch toured with Neil Young, who, assessing his own acoustic playing in an interview with Guitar World in 2009, said of his opening act, “I can’t play guitar like Bert Jansch.” Few ever have.
Below, Jansch in action in the Seventies performing the classic “Blackwaterside”